Teenage pregnancies is one of major social scourges in Rwanda to which the country has not yet found a possible lasting solution.
Rwanda government and partners have made tremendous improvement in Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Menstrual Health service.
The government further put in place gender policies and laws, yet teenage girls remain at a high risk of getting pregnant for many reasons that also call for new action.
For instance government efforts have resulted in decreasing the unmet need for family planning from 39% in 2005 up to 14% in 2020, increasing the use of modern contraception rate from 10% in 2005 to 58% in 2020 and teenage pregnancies reduced from 7% to 5% in 2021.
Young women who gave birth at a young age say that this is caused by lack of empowerment to make informed decisions, lack of education, financial challenges and facing sexual gender-based violence.
Sarah Umutoniwase from Rwamagana district explains that she was born out of a rape case at 16 years and her mother died two years later, leaving her helpless.
At the same age of 16, while in Secondary 3 at Groupe Scolaire Butare, Umutoniwase also got pregnant from a man who took advantage of her poverty and ignorance on Sexual Reproductive Health.
“If I was educated back then, I would have taken a stance to say NO. But now this experience has taught me to prepare my children not to fall into the same trap and ask that the government focuses on educating boys too,” says Umutoniwase, now 30 years and a married mother of three.
Getting pregnant automatically resulted in dropping out of school and her friends persuaded her to abort but she refused and gave birth with support of her foster mother- who helped her start a small maize roasting business to make ends meet.
Just like Umutoniwase, Josiane Niyigena also got pregnant while she was still a teenage as a result of a young man stalking her on her way to school on a daily basis.
Niyigena says the young man invited her to visit him at home but inquired if he lived with parents and he said yes but on visiting him, she found he lived alone.
“I found out the truth when I was already in his room. So he locked me up and raped me and three weeks later I realized I was pregnant,” Niyigena said.
Both Niyigena and Umutoniwase say despite ignorance on reproductive health among girls, the boys and men are equally responsible for the unwanted pregnancy of girls.
“When we look at the focus of preventing these pregnancies, it is only on the girls and in my lessons I try to change the focus on the boys too,” said Umutoniwase.
Joyeuse Nyiransabimana, a resident of Bwishyura sector in Karongi district says a male neighbor raped and impregnated her at 16, as result of needing new clothes (trousers) which her parents couldn’t provide.
“When I put off my clothes to dress up the new trouser gift, he raped me,” Nyiransabimana said this was all because she was in need of new clothes.
Nyiransabimana is one of the 54 girls, who were impregnated in her sector, out of over 17, 333 impregnated between 2015- 2020 countrywide- numbers which remain alarming.
Nyiransabimana says that lack of satisfaction with what girls have is an underlying factor in teenage pregnancies and calls for parents to take a lead role in educating and providing girls with their life needs.
To understand these cases and take action, Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Dr. Daniel Ngamije and Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Dr. Jeannette Bayisenge said there is a need for collective action.
Bayisenge said it is very clear that unintended pregnancies especially teenage pregnancies happen when girls are not sufficiently empowered to make informed decisions, lack of education, or are facing sexual gender-based violence.
Dr. Ngamije revealed that Rwanda plans to conduct a comprehensive study to further assess root causes associated with teenage pregnancies in collaboration with partners.